Stayton catcher Wyatt Hooper is unable to secure the ball while tagging Philomath's Mason Stearns at home plate in the third inning. After the umpires discussed the play, Stearns was ruled safe. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

It’s not exactly the type of walk-off moment that senior Brayden Shenk envisioned while batting with two outs in the bottom of the seventh Saturday afternoon in the team’s regular-season finale against Stayton.

With the game tied, Shenk sent a high pop fly toward third base in what appeared to be a routine play. But the ball popped out of the Stayton player’s glove, pinch runner Silas Pittman scored and the Warriors had an 8-7 victory.

“I was just trying to get it somewhere hopefully on the ground or pull it hard down the line to try to create something,” Shenk said. “It was not a good hit but you know, luck came out of it.”

Philomath (11-13 overall, 6-9 Oregon West) will now see what happens with the play-in matchups. The Oregon School Activities Association rankings won’t freeze until Monday night. Play-in games will be played Thursday, Friday or Saturday.

The Warriors jumped up to No. 17 after the win over a No. 8-ranked Stayton team and gave PHS an outside chance at hosting a home play-in game. If not, the team will hit the road against an opponent to be determined — it all depends how everything shakes out after Monday with some impact games to be played.

Meanwhile, the loss may have knocked Stayton (14-8, 10-5) out of position to earn an automatic playoff berth. The Eagles are among the possibilities to fill one of two wildcard spots with No. 4 North Marion already clinching the league title.

“We’ve been in a little bit of a slump for a while so I think this is really good to solidify how we’re going to come into the playoffs,” Shenk said about the victory, expressing confidence that the team has turned a corner.

PHS senior Brayden Shenk put in a complete-game performance with eight strikeouts in his final home appearance. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Interestingly, all five seniors that were recognized prior to the game had key contributions in the victory. Shenk put together a complete-game performance at pitcher. Ty May had a couple of hits, including a key two-out single in the seventh. Silas Barton also got on base in the seventh and had a one-run double earlier in the game. Chad Russell had a couple of hits and drove in a run. And David Griffith drove in an important run on a sacrifice fly to right field in the fifth.

“For the last couple of weeks, it seems like everything that can go wrong has been going wrong,” PHS coach Levi Webber said. “We’ve had a lot of tough luck on the offensive side of things as far as balls getting hit hard right at people and coming at times when we have guys in scoring position. To finally get one to break our way, you know, it feels pretty good because we haven’t gotten to many of those this year.”

The game entered the seventh inning tied 6-6 and Stayton’s leadoff batter reached on a four-pitch walk. Shenk then went 2-0 against the next batter before getting him to pop up to first base. When Ty Borde hit a double to center field to give the Eagles a 7-6 lead, you had to wonder if it was time to bring in a reliever. Webber and his assistants discussed the possibility and sophomore Joe Barnes was warming up in the bullpen.

But Webber stayed with Shenk and he responded with a fly to left field for the second out and a groundout to third to end the inning.

“Hey, he came back and he found it and found a way to get out of a tough situation and minimize damage,” Webber said.

Factoring into keeping Shenk in the game was his pitch count. He was at just 65 through five innings and ended up throwing 99 pitches for the game.

“Going into the sixth, he had a pretty low (pitch count) so that was good,” Webber said. “And when we play defense like that behind him, you give yourself a good chance.”

Shenk admitted that he had challenges in the final inning.

“I’d say I felt pretty good but the seventh inning was a little bit of a struggle,” Shenk said. “But you know, you just have to push through.”

PHS senior Ty May went 2 for 3 in his final home game. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath’s Kash Lindsey got things going in the seventh with one out when he was hit by a pitch. Logan Matthews entered the game as a pinch runner and would eventually come around to score the tying run. After the second out was recorded, May went to left field with a single and Pittman replaced him at first as a pinch runner.

Then both Barton and Shenk reached on errors and the Warriors had the victory.

“That’s a good team over there and you know that they’re always going to play hard,” Webber said. “That run they got in the seventh, for us to come back and get two of our own with a couple of big-time at-bats by a couple of seniors, that was cool to see on Senior Day.”

Although there were plenty of key moments in the seventh, Shenk’s performance on the mound cannot be undervalued. His final stat line included eight hits, seven runs, five earned runs and two walks allowed with eight strikeouts.

“Brayden, he’s a strike thrower, he just competes and commands the zone and can throw a couple of different pitches,” Webber said. ‘His breaking ball when it’s going good is such a good pitch to keep the other team off balance.”

Shenk has been the team’s most consistent pitcher this season.

“Just knowing that when he goes out there, you know we’re going to get a guy that’s going to keep us in the game,” Webber said. “The kids know that when he’s in there, we’ve got a chance, a good chance, and he’s pitched great.”

When Shenk is on the mound, the Warriors have a better chance for success in the field.

“We have our best defense behind him when he’s pitching,” Webber said, “because we get Mason (Stearns) at short and David (Griffith) at second.”

Philomath took a 2-0 lead through two innings. Freshman Caleb Babcock hit a sacrifice fly to right field in the first to bring in Pittman, who was a courtesy runner for catcher Grant Niemann. Niemann had singled up the middle to begin the inning.

In the second, Lindsey walked and would come around to score on a sacrifice bunt by Barton to the first base side.

The umpires discuss a play at the plate while PHS coach Levi Webber watches with interest. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Stayton scored four times in the third only to see the Warriors counter with three of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Russell had a one-run single to drive in Stearns, who was safe at home when the Eagles’ catcher couldn’t secure control of the ball on the play.

Babcock scored moments later on a steal of home to tie the game 4-4. On the play, Stayton attempted to throw out Russell at second on a steal attempt and with the throw going to the bag, Babcock sprinted for home and everybody was safe.

Lindsey then ripped a triple to right field to drive in Russell for a 5-4 Warriors lead.

After loading the bases with no outs in the fourth and not scoring any runs, Philomath came back in the fifth to push one across for a two-run lead. Russell doubled to left and Griffith brought him in on a sac fly.

Stayton tied the game in the top of the sixth with a pair of runs to set up the finish that was seen in the seventh.

Niemann, Stearns, Russell and May each had two hits for the Warriors. Cody Leming and Ty Borde each had two hits for the Eagles. Stayton used three pitchers in the loss with Eli Brown ending up with the decision.

Brad Fuqua

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.

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